Vail Daily column: Cuba is changing
An apparently polite and perfunctory presidential encounter at Nelson
Mandela's memorial became more than a mere handshake. Not only did
President Barack Obama shake Raul Castro's hand, but he also shook the
Beltway and blogosphere, ironically and metaphorically giving pause to
those with sanitary concerns about casual and calculated handshakes.
This one did indeed go viral. The handshake grabbed the synoptic
attention spans that comprise the Internet, inciting gobs of Google
returns and emotional comments.
While some pundits and politicians consider President Obama's
acknowledgement of Cuba's leader either a pragmatic grasp of diplomacy
or merely a funereal formality, others lambasted the palming as
insouciance, if not actually a tacit high five, to tyranny and thuggery.
While the presidential handshake may have meant nothing more than a
spontaneous greeting without forethought or consequence, the possibility
exists that the gesture subtly acknowledged that our Cuban policy,
codified through ostracism and various legislative measures through the
years, has likely delayed rather than hastened Cuban democracy.
One thing is certain. Cuba is changing.
Last month, I traveled to Cuba on the Chamber of the Americas Cuban
Cultural/Educational mission trip. Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban native and
doctoral candidate at the University of Denver's Korbel School of
International Studies, guided the mission, introducing us to Cuban
artists, musicians, academics, students, bloggers, activists, religious
leaders and budding entrepreneurs. The introductions were more than an
exchange of handshakes and pleasantries. We engaged in spirited and
freewheeling discussions about socioeconomic and political challenges
that would've been impossible even a decade ago. Actually, finding a
budding entrepreneur in Cuba a decade ago would've been impossible. A
recent New York Times article explored the Cuban government's gradual
and limited shifts and allowances, quoting our tour organizer,
Lopez-Levy, on the intricacies the Cuban government and reformists
navigate on the delicate dance to a destination even remotely considered
a full-fledged free democracy. Cuba's limited freedoms and private
proprietorships appear more of an amateur dress rehearsal than the world
premiere of a polished production on any stage of the global economy.
Chamber of the Americas' Cuban mission exposed both the holdouts and the
passing of Castro's communist Cuba. While the government's economic
reforms and expanded freedoms and allowances appear slow, even
begrudging, the newfound permissiveness appears everywhere every day.
The Cuban government's long-awaited surrender won't come courtesy of
military strikes or economic embargos, but through pragmatism and
compromise. Democratic and economic reform will occur through evolution
rather than revolution.
The broad American perception of Cuba is that of an anachronistic
government and country; exiled to a bygone time and discarded ideology.
The forbidden fruit allure and film noir romanticism retain a potent
pull on the American imagination through bohemian bromides and celluloid
visages of Hemingway and fedoras, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and berets, and
vintage automobiles last seen with regularity in the Eisenhower era.
Remnants of those perceptions remain throughout Cuba, but the island
nation has progressed past America's stereotypical imagination of
Fulgencio Batista's decadence and Fidel Castro's severity. These days,
Castro's sweeping and soaring sermons under the monumental pillar in
Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion are seen and heard only on historical
video and audio recordings; the state no longer has monolithic business
and communication exchanges. Indeed, the general population eagerly
trades words, goods and services with foreigners.
New face of Cuba
Harold Cardenas Lema, a professor and blogger at La Joven Cuba, is one
of those Cuban citizens eager to express opinions without restraint or
limitations. He represents the new face of Cuba, an academic with
limited means, opportunities and freedoms, but agitating for change and
opportunities in ways that are more meaningful and effective than our
isolation of the Cuban government and, by extension, its citizens. The
setting of our meeting with Cardenas Lema also represented a shift in
the Cuban socioeconomic and political topography. We met at a paladar, a
privately owned restaurant. Actually, the establishment was more of a
movie-centric watering hole reminiscent of Hemingway's and Hollywood's
ideated and idyllic Havana, replete with sketches and murals of
Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe that would fit in SoHo or LoDo. The
location and setting represented Cuba's gradual transition, situated on
the cusp of Havana and Hollywood; communism and capitalism.
If the ambiance, location and nature of the paladar herald an evolution
rather than a revolution in Cuba, Cardenas Lema personifies it. His
words, written and spoken with insistent passion, push past the eroding
strictures and limitations of Cuban discourse. Cardenas Lema will win
his war with words rather than weapons. He displays frustration,
impatience and hope in equal measures. Like other Cubans I met, the
possibility of relations with America excites him, including the
prospect of collaboration between the Chamber of the Americas and La
Whatever the motivations and implications of the controversial handshake
at the Mandela memorial, a generous interpretation foretells increased
American relations with a Cuban democracy led by people such as Cardenas
Lema and influenced by his passion and persistence.
Wayne Trujillo, director of communications for the Chamber of the
Americas, is a Minturn native and Battle Mountain High School graduate.
His family moved to Eagle County nearly a century ago. His uncle, Oscar
Meyer, was the Eagle County sheriff gunned down by James Sherbondy on
Tennessee Pass in 1937, and his Aunt Ollie Meyer was Eagle County
superintendent of schools. His grandparents, Irene and Ralph Meyer,
moved to Minturn in the 1940s and owned and operated Meyer's Garage. He
currently lives in Denver.
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